Book Review: The Conqueror’s Wife by Stephanie Thornton

Book Review: The Conqueror’s Wife by Stephanie ThorntonThe Conqueror's Wife by Stephanie Thornton
Published by NAL on December 1, 2015
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 512
Format: ARC
Source: Blog Tour, Edelweiss, Publisher
Goodreads
4 Stars
We are the women who loved Alexander the Great. We were lovers and murderers, innocents and soldiers.
And without us, Alexander would have been only a man.
Instead he was a god.

330s, B.C.E., Greece: Alexander, a handsome young warrior of Macedon, begins his quest to conquer the ancient world. But he cannot ascend to power, and keep it, without the women who help to shape his destiny.

His spirited younger half-sister, Thessalonike, yearns to join her brother and see the world. Instead, it is Alexander's boyhood companion who rides with him into war while Thessalonike remains behind. Far away, crafty princess Drypetis will not stand idly by as Alexander topples her father from Persia's throne. And after Alexander conquers her tiny kingdom, Roxana, the beautiful and cunning daughter of a minor noble, wins Alexander’s heart…and will commit any crime to secure her place at his side.

Within a few short years, Alexander controls an empire more vast than the civilized world has ever known. But his victories are tarnished by losses on the battlefield and treachery among his inner circle. And long after Alexander is gone, the women who are his champions, wives, and enemies will fight to claim his legacy…

Book Review:

What’s more interesting than reading about Alexander the Great? Reading his story through the eyes of the women in his life. Thessalonike, Drypetis, and Roxana aren’t as well known as Alexander, but those three women, and Hephaestion, his best friend, should be. Because author Stephanie Thornton breathed life into them, and made them much more interesting to me than Alexander himself.

Thessalonike is Alexander’s half sister. She wishes she could join him and see the world, but she’s stuck in Macedon with Alexander’s dangerous mother. Her only escape is learning to fight with her half sister, Cynnane. Drypetis is Princess Drypetis, the daughter of King Darius and the hostage of Alexander. She’s interested in all things mechanical and thwarting Alexander however she can. After nearly being sold as a whore by her father, Roxana takes her destiny into her own hands, doing anything necessary to secure her future. Hephaestion is Alexander’s best friend, sometimes lover, and the only voice of reason he’ll sometimes listen to.

The four are the main voices in THE CONQUEROR’S WIFE, and through each of their perspectives, the reader gets a good view of Alexander and the world he created. The book has a bit of a slow start, as every character is introduced and their backgrounds established. But after that, the book moves at a good pace, and it wasn’t hard to remember who anyone was, as every character has a distinct personality and storyline. I quite liked all of them, which is unusual for me, as I typically have a favorite character. But the author did such a good job with everyone, and made me want to spend more time with everyone.

Because the characters all have their own thoughts about Alexander — good and bad — Alexander himself isn’t romanticized, which I appreciated. He’s such a famous historical figure that it would be easy to turn him into a Gary Stu. I could tell that the author did her research, showing the good and bad sides of Alexander, and also of the empire he built.

THE CONQUEROR’S WIFE is over 500 pages, so it’s a good, meaty book, and I could have read another couple hundred after I finished the book. I also appreciated that the author showed life after Alexander’s death for the characters, giving their conclusions instead of just ending the book.

Socialize with the author:

Stephanie Thornton:
Website
Facebook
Twitter

– leeanna

Blog Tour: The Conqueror’s Wife by Stephanie Thornton

the conqueror's wife blog tour

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for THE CONQUEROR’S WIFE by Stephanie Thornton. I totally got my dates mixed up, so today I just have a spotlight of the book for you. But I’ll have my review up soon, and I thought it was a fantastic book, especially if you like reading about strong historical heroines brought to life. The tour is hosted by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, and you can visit all the stops here.

the conqueror's wife by stephanie thorntonInfo:
Title: The Conqueror’s Wife by Stephanie Thornton
Release Date: December 1, 2015
Publisher: NAL/Penguin Group LLC
Genre: Historical Fiction
Page Count: 496
Rating:

Summary:

A novel from the acclaimed author of The Tiger Queens, for readers looking for “strong and determined female protagonists” (Historical Novel Society) and “a sprawling historical saga” (Renee Rosen)…

We are the women who loved Alexander the Great. We were lovers and murderers, innocents and soldiers.
And without us, Alexander would have been only a man.
Instead he was a god.

330s, B.C.E., Greece: Alexander, a handsome young warrior of Macedon, begins his quest to conquer the ancient world. But he cannot ascend to power, and keep it, without the women who help to shape his destiny.

His spirited younger half-sister, Thessalonike, yearns to join her brother and see the world. Instead, it is Alexander’s boyhood companion who rides with him into war while Thessalonike remains behind. Far away, crafty princess Drypetis will not stand idly by as Alexander topples her father from Persia’s throne. And after Alexander conquers her tiny kingdom, Roxana, the beautiful and cunning daughter of a minor noble, wins Alexander’s heart…and will commit any crime to secure her place at his side.

Within a few short years, Alexander controls an empire more vast than the civilized world has ever known. But his victories are tarnished by losses on the battlefield and treachery among his inner circle. And long after Alexander is gone, the women who are his champions, wives, and enemies will fight to claim his legacy…

About the author:

author stephanie thorntonStephanie Thornton is a writer and history teacher who has been obsessed with infamous women from ancient history since she was twelve. She lives with her husband and daughter in Alaska, where she is at work on her next novel.

“The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora,” “Daughter of the Gods: A Novel of Ancient Egypt,” and “The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan” are available now. “The Conqueror’s Wife: A Novel of Alexander the Great” will hit the shelves in December 2015.

For more information please visit Stephanie Thornton’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.
Buy links: Amazon (Kindle) | Amazon (paperback) | B&N | Book Depository | Indiebound

– leeanna

Book Review: Medicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot

Book Review: Medicis Daughter by Sophie PerinotMédicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot
Published by Thomas Dunne Books on December 1, 2015
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: Blog Tour
Goodreads
4 Stars
Winter, 1564. Beautiful young Princess Margot is summoned to the court of France, where nothing is what it seems and a wrong word can lead to ruin. Known across Europe as Madame la Serpente, Margot’s intimidating mother, Queen Catherine de Médicis, is a powerful force in a country devastated by religious war. Among the crafty nobility of the royal court, Margot learns the intriguing and unspoken rules she must live by to please her poisonous family.

Eager to be an obedient daughter, Margot accepts her role as a marriage pawn, even as she is charmed by the powerful, charismatic Duc de Guise. Though Margot's heart belongs to Guise, her hand will be offered to Henri of Navarre, a Huguenot leader and a notorious heretic looking to seal a tenuous truce. But the promised peace is a mirage: her mother's schemes are endless, and her brothers plot vengeance in the streets of Paris. When Margot's wedding devolves into the bloodshed of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, she will be forced to choose between her family and her soul.

Médicis Daughter is historical fiction at its finest, weaving a unique coming-of-age story and a forbidden love with one of the most dramatic and violent events in French history.

blog tour medicis daughter

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for MEDICIS DAUGHTER by Sophie Perinot. The tour is hosted by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, and you can visit all the stops here.

Book Review:

I’m sure you’ve heard of Catherine de Médici, but have you heard of her daughter, Margot? Catherine and her sons tend to overshadow her daughters, so that was the first thing to interest me about MEDICIS DAUGHTER. I tend to like historical fiction that introduces new-to-me people, and this book was no exception.

MEDICIS DAUGHTER follows the early years of Margot’s life, from her start at court to the beginning of her marriage with Henri of Navarre. If you’re familiar with French history, you know this is a very turbulent time, but even if you aren’t, the author conveys that turbulence well through Margot’s view. The Valois are staunch Catholics, but in the interests of trying to broker peace, King Charles and his mother are willing to make a few concessions to the Protestants. In a way, those Protestants have more freedom and influence with the king and his mother than Margot does.

One of the things I liked most about MEDICIS DAUGHTER is how the author conveyed Margot’s lack of control in her life. I’m sure a lot of us would like to be royalty, but in most countries, princesses were just tools in the game of marriage alliances. Margot is no exception, and it’s easy to empathize with her pain when she’s turned down by Don Carlos, son of King Philip II, and then also refused by King Philip himself. Catherine de Médici’s preference for her sons is easy to see, particularly Henri, Duke of Anjou. Margot, though perhaps as clever as Catherine herself, is seen just as a pawn, and she can never make her mother happy. Or even be listened to, when a brother tries to malign her reputation. I also liked that the author went there with Anjou and Margot.

Over the course of the book, Margot learns how to use her circumstances to her advantage. I liked seeing her grow up and grow into herself. It was also interesting to see the rest of the royal family through Margot’s eyes, particularly her mother. I’ve read a few books with Catherine de Médici as the main character, but I preferred Perinot’s version, seeing Catherine as a mother and queen behind the throne.

I feel like the author did a good job of bringing Margot to life, as well as the French court, the royal family, Margot’s friends, and the religious wars of the times. After I finished MEDICIS DAUGHTER, I went and looked up everything I could find about Margot. That’s the mark of a good read: the author hooked me into the historical figure and I want to learn everything about them. I do hope Sophie Perinot continues Margot’s tale, because her life was even more interesting after her marriage.

About the author:

author sophie perinotSOPHIE PERINOT is the author of The Sister Queens and one of six contributing authors of A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii. A former attorney, Perinot is now a full-time writer. She lives in Great Falls, Virginia with her three children, three cats, one dog and one husband.

An active member of the Historical Novel Society, Sophie has attended all of the group’s North American Conferences and served as a panelist multiple times.
Website
Facebook
Twitter
Buy links: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound

– leeanna

Book Review: A Year of Ravens: A Novel of Boudica’s Rebellion

Book Review: A Year of Ravens: A Novel of Boudica’s RebellionA Year of Ravens by E. Knight, Kate Quinn, Russell Whitfield, Ruth Downie, S.J.A. Turney, Stephanie Dray, Vicky Alvear Shecter
Published by Knight Media on November 17, 2015
Genres: History
Pages: 440
Format: eARC
Source: Blog Tour
Goodreads
5 Stars
Britannia: land of mist and magic clinging to the western edge of the Roman Empire. A red-haired queen named Boudica led her people in a desperate rebellion against the might of Rome, an epic struggle destined to consume heroes and cowards, young and old, Roman and Celt . . . and these are their stories.

A calculating queen sees the sparks of revolt in a king’s death.

A neglected slave girl seizes her own courage as Boudica calls for war.

An idealistic tribune finds manhood in a brutal baptism of blood and slaughter.

A conflicted warrior hovers between loyalty to tribe and loyalty to Rome.

A death-haunted Druid challenges the gods themselves to ensure victory for his people.

An old champion struggles for everlasting glory in the final battle against the legions.

A fiery princess fights to salvage the pieces of her mother’s dream as the ravens circle.

A novel in seven parts, overlapping stories of warriors and peacemakers, queens and slaves, Romans and Celts who cross paths during Boudica’s epic rebellion. But who will survive to see the dawn of a new Britannia, and who will fall to feed the ravens?

blog tour a year of ravens a novel of boudica's rebellion

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for A YEAR OF RAVENS by Ruth Downie, Stephanie Dray, E. Knight, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, S.J.A. Turney, and Russell Whitfield. This is a very unique book, one I enjoyed quite a bit. After my review, there’s a tour-wide giveaway. The blog tour is hosted by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, and you can visit all the stops here.

Book Review:

I’m not a huge fan of short stories. I’d rather read a whole book about the same characters and their stories. But last year, I read A DAY OF FIRE, which showed the last days of Pompeii through six different characters in six different stories. All of the characters interacted in some way, and there were several plotlines that carried through the whole book. I really enjoyed A DAY OF FIRE, and so when I saw several of the same authors (and some new ones) were coming together to write about Boudica, I couldn’t wait to start it.

The beauty of a book like A YEAR OF RAVENS is that if one character’s point of view doesn’t interest you, you can easily skip to the next chapter and see events through someone else’s eyes. I personally enjoyed every section, but the book is written in such a way that you won’t be lost if you don’t like a certain section.

Boudica is someone I’ve always been interested in, but somehow I’ve never read much about her. A YEAR OF RAVENS doesn’t have any sections from her viewpoint, but by seeing her through the eyes of those around her, as well as her enemies, I feel like I got a great idea of the woman she might have been. Because there are so many viewpoints and the book doesn’t focus just on Boudica as a character but the overall rebellion, I also got a great picture of all the events leading up to and during the year of battle.

The viewpoints in the book include:

  • Queen Cartimandua, a client queen who did not revolt against Rome
  • Slave girl Ria, the illegitimate daughter of King Prasutagus of the Iceni
  • Roman Tribune Gnaeus Julius Agricola
  • Andecarus, an Iceni tribesman hostaged to Rome at a young age
  • Druid Yorath, the only druid to survive a Roman massacre; Felix, a Roman soldier captured by Yorath
  • Duro, Boudica’s war chief; Valeria, wife of Britannia’s procurator
  • Sorcha and Keena, Boudica’s daughters

As you can see, there’s something for everyone, and both sides of the story are also represented. I couldn’t pick a favorite character, which is unusual for me. I liked everyone! And I felt for everyone as their circumstances changed, which says something for me, since it usually takes me a lot of page time to get attached. The sections flow almost seamlessly — except for a few areas of expertise, like Russell Whitfield’s knowledge of Roman armies — it’s difficult to tell each section is written by a different author. The smooth continuity of the plotlines and character interactions in A YEAR OF RAVENS make it a very unique, very cool book.

Giveaway:

A Year of Ravens

*giveaway is tour-wide

A Year of Ravens authors:

a year of ravens authors
Ruth Downie, Stephanie Dray, E. Knight, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, S.J.A. Turney, & Russell Whitfield
Buy links: Amazon | B&N | iTunes

– leeanna

Book Review: An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet

Book Review: An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah BobetAn Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet
Published by Clarion Books on October 6, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
2 Stars
The strange war down south—with its rumors of gods and monsters—is over. And while sixteen-year-old Hallie and her sister wait to see who will return from the distant battlefield, they struggle to maintain their family farm.

When Hallie hires a veteran to help them, the war comes home in ways no one could have imagined, and soon Hallie is taking dangerous risks—and keeping desperate secrets. But even as she slowly learns more about the war and the men who fought it, ugly truths about Hallie’s own family are emerging. And while monsters and armies are converging on the small farm, the greatest threat to her home may be Hallie herself.

Book Review:

You know how most books end when the good guys defeat the bad guys? But what happens when the war is over? What happens when family doesn’t come back? How do you go back to normal? What does normal even mean?

AN INHERITANCE OF ASHES tries to answer some of those questions. Hallie and her older sister Marthe stubbornly work their family farm, hoping Marthe’s husband will come back from the war. But instead of Thomas, a strange veteran shows up, looking to work for room and board for the winter. Heron’s help is sorely needed on the farm — 50 acres is too much for Hallie to handle herself — but the war might have followed him.

I quite liked the idea of AN INHERITANCE OF ASHES. Very rarely do YA books look at the aftermath of the big fight, so I was excited to see a book that promised to do just that.

But the book didn’t deliver for me. Because the war is over already, and because the men who fought don’t want to talk about it, I was super confused about its events and the Twisted Things. I liked the idea of the Twisted Things — they’re creepy and dangerous — but I felt like I was missing half the necessary information to understand them, the war, and the Wicked God. When the big revelation came, I didn’t understand it at all.

I felt like that for a lot of the book, actually — that I was missing vital information. Like I was plopped into the second book of a series. Hallie and her sister have a strained relationship, one that Hallie gets in the way of fixing with her own stubbornness. I could understand that stubbornness, and Hallie’s pride, but I didn’t know where it came from. Why didn’t Hallie ever open her mouth and ask the questions she had for Marthe, instead of brooding and being snippy when they did talk? The sibling troubles took up too much of AN INHERITANCE OF ASHES for me; I wish some of that page time had been spent explaining other things since it was just the same scene between them over and over.

Now, one thing I did like in the book was the burgeoning relationship between Hallie and Tyler. They’ve known each other all their lives, and I thought their stumbling steps towards a romantic relationship were quite realistic. It’s rare that I like romance, especially in YA, but I liked this one because it didn’t overshadow the rest of the book, was well done, and realistic. There’s no insta-love, love triangle, or any of that nonsense.

I wanted to like AN INHERITANCE OF ASHES way more than I did. When I finally finished the book, which seemed to take forever because of the slow pacing, I was disappointed. I felt like I had to read between the lines to make sense of everything, and I don’t enjoy that kind of reading experience.

Socialize with the author:

Leah Bobet:
Website
Facebook
Twitter

– leeanna

Author Interview: Robin Talley

Last week, I reviewed WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND, Robin Talley’s second book. It’s a book that touched me and made me think about gender in a new way. I also liked Robin’s first book last year, LIES WE TELL OURSELVES, so I was super excited to get the chance to interview her.

Thanks, Robin, for answering my questions!

author interview with robin talley

Interview with Robin Talley:

author robin talley

I read in the Acknowledgments that Toni and Gretchen have been with you a long time, since you decided you wanted to be a writer. Can you share any of how they’ve evolved over the years? 

So much has changed since I first dreamed up Toni and Gretchen ― but not the heart of who they are as characters. Originally, I envisioned the two of them as secondary characters in a book that was supposed to be focused on a different couple who were part of Toni and Gretchen’s high school Gay-Straight Alliance. But soon I realized I was a lot more interested in telling Toni and Gretchen’s story than their friends’!

Readers obviously have their own interpretations and conclusions about books, but in a perfect world, what do you wish every reader would find in WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND?

To me, WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND is a story about independence, about finding your own way and learning who you really are and what you really want as an individual ― and working from there to figure out where you fit in relation to other people, whether they’re your romantic partners or your friends or your family.

What was the hardest part of writing WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND? And what was your favorite part of writing the book? 

The hardest part was figuring out how to handle language, particularly regarding pronouns and identity labels, since Toni spends a lot of time focusing on how significant those words can be and I wanted to make sure I was weighing everything with just as much importance as Toni would. One of my favorite parts, though, was taking a research trip to Harvard and exploring that campus. It’s so different from any other college campus I’ve been to.

So far you’ve written historical fiction and contemporary. Any other genres you’d like to explore? 

There are lots! My next book is horror, so that was a ton of fun to write ― it has ghosts and scary visions and whatnot. After that I’m working on another contemporary realistic story, and after that I’m potentially looking at a medieval-era fantasy.

A question you’ve always wanted to answer, but no one has asked. Go!

No one ever asks me what adult books are my favorites! Recently I read two very different adult books that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since ― World War Z by Max Brooks, which is a really interesting parable about American foreign policy (and also a cool zombie story), and Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel, a complex historical novel about the Anne Boleyn era that has inspired me in my own historical fiction writing.

About WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND:

Author Interview: Robin TalleyWhat We Left Behind by Robin Talley
Published by Harlequin Teen on October 27, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, LGBT, New Adult, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
5 Stars
From the critically acclaimed author of Lies We Tell Ourselves comes an emotional, empowering story of what happens when love isn't enough to conquer all.

Toni and Gretchen are the couple everyone envied in high school. They've been together forever. They never fight. They're deeply, hopelessly in love. When they separate for their first year at college—Toni to Harvard and Gretchen to NYU—they're sure they'll be fine. Where other long-distance relationships have fallen apart, their relationship will surely thrive.

The reality of being apart, however, is a lot different than they expected. As Toni, who identifies as genderqueer, falls in with a group of transgender upperclassmen and immediately finds a sense of belonging that has always been missing, Gretchen struggles to remember who she is outside their relationship.

While Toni worries that Gretchen, who is not trans, just won't understand what is going on, Gretchen begins to wonder where she fits in Toni's life. As distance and Toni's shifting gender identity begins to wear on their relationship, the couple must decide—have they grown apart for good, or is love enough to keep them together?

About LIES WE TELL OURSELVES:

Author Interview: Robin TalleyLies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
Published by Harlequin Teen on September 30, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction, LGBT, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
5 Stars
In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town's most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept "separate but equal."

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.

Boldly realistic and emotionally compelling, Lies We Tell Ourselves is a brave and stunning novel about finding truth amid the lies, and finding your voice even when others are determined to silence it.

About the author:

Robin Talley, author of Lies We Tell Ourselves (September 2014) and What We Left Behind (October 2015), grew up in Roanoke, Virginia. A Lambda Literary Fellow, Robin now lives in Washington, D.C., with her wife, plus an antisocial cat and a goofy hound dog. When Robin’s not writing, she’s often planning communication strategies at organizations fighting for equal rights and social justice.
Website
Facebook
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

Book Review: What We Left Behind by Robin TalleyWhat We Left Behind by Robin Talley
Published by Harlequin Teen on October 27, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, LGBT, New Adult, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
5 Stars
From the critically acclaimed author of Lies We Tell Ourselves comes an emotional, empowering story of what happens when love isn't enough to conquer all.

Toni and Gretchen are the couple everyone envied in high school. They've been together forever. They never fight. They're deeply, hopelessly in love. When they separate for their first year at college—Toni to Harvard and Gretchen to NYU—they're sure they'll be fine. Where other long-distance relationships have fallen apart, their relationship will surely thrive.

The reality of being apart, however, is a lot different than they expected. As Toni, who identifies as genderqueer, falls in with a group of transgender upperclassmen and immediately finds a sense of belonging that has always been missing, Gretchen struggles to remember who she is outside their relationship.

While Toni worries that Gretchen, who is not trans, just won't understand what is going on, Gretchen begins to wonder where she fits in Toni's life. As distance and Toni's shifting gender identity begins to wear on their relationship, the couple must decide—have they grown apart for good, or is love enough to keep them together?

Book Review:

Robin Talley’s first book, LIES WE TELL OURSELVES, was one of my favorites of 2014. When I saw she had a new book, one about a genderqueer protagonist, I couldn’t wait to read it. Books are slowly becoming more diverse, but it’s still rare to find one that explores gender identity. Just like the author’s debut, WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND is a book that touched me deeply, made me think a lot, and is one I want everyone to read.

WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND kind of straddles the line between Young Adult and New Adult. Toni and Gretchen are eighteen, just starting their first year of college. That’s an important time for a lot of people, because it’s the first time you’re on your own, with the chance to explore your interests and start to figure out who you really are. I think the author captured the chaos and freedom of that time quite well, when you’re trying new things, juggling old and new friendships, distant parental expectations, and maybe even an ongoing relationship.

I like just about everything in WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND, but a few things stand out. One is the relationship between Toni and Gretchen. Very rarely do YA books show the meat of a relationship — so much of the time, a book is focused on getting the characters together. In WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND, Toni and Gretchen have been a couple for two years. So they’re sure they can handle the distance between Boston and New York City. For a couple that loves each other as much as they do, a few hundred miles is no big deal. Nevermind the fact that Gretchen didn’t tell Toni she applied to NYU, instead of following Toni to Boston. That’s fine, because they don’t fight. But when you don’t fight, and you don’t really talk about the issues that bother you, how well does a relationship work? And when you’re used to being Toni-and-Gretchen, what happens when you’re just Toni or just Gretchen? Does love change, or does it always stay the same?

I really appreciated that the author delved into Toni and Gretchen’s relationship. Both of their perspectives are given, and while the adorable first meeting/hookup scene is included, there’s so much more than that in the book. There’s actual relationship growing pains, and while at first their relationship is perfect, it becomes less perfect when Toni feels unable to talk to Gretchen about all the new life things. How can Gretchen be the perfect girlfriend when it seems like Toni doesn’t want to see her?

The second standout of WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND is Toni’s gender explorations. At the start of the book, Toni identifies as genderqueer. At Harvard, Toni becomes friends with upperclassman who are all over the gender spectrum, which makes Toni think a lot more about where, exactly, Toni belongs. Is Toni gender nonconforming, gender fluid, non-binary, trans? Something else? Toni’s never felt like a girl, but being surrounded by others who know their gender identity, and also having the freedom for the first time ever to explore options, sends Toni on a quest to try everything from different pronouns to chest binding to more. Toni thinks about this a lot, and talks about with the new friends a lot, which resulted in me getting a good introduction and look into all the different labels out there, and why people would identify with/use different ones. Thanks to Toni, I also started thinking a lot more about pronouns, and how they reinforce gender constantly. Here’s a little example — it’s taking a lot of conscious thought to not use “she” or “he” to refer to Toni in this review. For another ah-ha moment, look at how Toni refers to others and how Gretchen refers to Toni in the first ~50 pages.

With Toni’s mad rush to figure everything out, Toni sometimes comes across, as well, somewhat of a jerk. Toni gets super wrapped up in figuring out the perfect pronouns and labels, and also fitting other people into neat little labeled boxes. Toni is often quite judgmental of other people. At first, that bugged me — I wanted to give Toni a good whack — but then I got it. If I wanted to be sure of myself and not constantly trying to figure out what label fit me, I’d probably act the same exact way.

WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND is a book that spoke to me and made me think. I enjoy books like that, especially books that push outside the boundaries of the conventional boy and girl fall in love the end stories.

Upcoming:

In the near future, I’ll have an interview with Robin on the blog, so be sure to check back!

Interview with Robin Talley.

Socialize with the author:

Robin Talley:
Website
Facebook
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Book Review: Dumplin’ by Julie MurphyDumplin' by Julie Murphy
Published by Balzer & Bray on September 15, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, Edelweiss
Goodreads
2 Stars
Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

Book Review:

DUMPLIN’ is a book with a lot of hype behind it. I tend to be disappointed by heavily hyped books, and unfortunately, DUMPLIN’ was another one of those disappointments.

Willowdean Dickson, self-proclaimed fat girl, is comfortable in her own skin. She’s not going to diet or try to lose weight to make her mother, a former pageant queen, happy. She’s not one of those girls who looks in the mirror and thinks about how to be better. So you’d think that DUMPLIN’ is about body positivity and accepting who you are and being comfortable with that person.

But I thought Willow was quite judgmental. Example: “Mille is that girl, the one I am ashamed to admit that I’ve spent my entire life looking at and thinking, Things could be worse (p. 5).” Or: “Maybe Priscilla’s life is an even bigger mess than mine and I’ll walk away feeling like I’ve at least got it better than this poor girl (p. 91).”

Willow is supposed to be some sort of rebel by entering the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant. In the summary, the pageant’s described as her attempt to take back her confidence. But for an event that’s such an important part of the book, it really has very little page time, which disappointed me. Willow looks down on the pageant a lot, and after she enters, it’s more of an afterthought than anything else. I wish more of the pageant had been detailed, rather than just getting a few pages at the end.

Because instead of seeing a lot of the pageant or pageant prep, Willow spends way too much time angsting about her boy troubles for me to like DUMPLIN’ very much. Her “relationship” with Bo is a big thing, because when he touches her, Willow’s loses the comfort she’s always had with her body. But I saw absolutely zero chemistry in that relationship — and I’m using that term loosely, because Bo keeps Willow a secret. She spends the school year angsting about their summer spent making out behind a fast food place. I looked through DUMPLIN’ a second time, trying to figure out why Bo liked Willow, and I got nothin. Their relationship seemed like pure wish fulfillment to me: yes, the fat girl can have a cute jock! Add in another sort of relationship that I didn’t like either because Willow used the guy, and I was more than finished with Willow.

I was bored by a lot of DUMPLIN’. Willow just didn’t grab me. She’s like so many other YA characters with the exception of her body. I was much more interested in her deceased Aunt Lucy, who was also overweight. Or Millie, who seemed much more comfortable with her body than Willow. I wish DUMPLIN’ had been written from Millie’s perspective, because she really was comfortable with herself, and because the pageant was actually important to her as a dream, not Willow’s random reasons.

Socialize with the author:

Julie Murphy:
Website
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: Soundless by Richelle Mead

Book Review: Soundless by Richelle MeadSoundless by Richelle Mead
Published by Razorbill on November 10, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 272
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
3 Stars
From Richelle Mead, the #1 internationally bestselling author of Vampire Academy and Bloodlines, comes a breathtaking new fantasy steeped in Chinese folklore.

For as long as Fei can remember, there has been no sound in her village, where rocky terrain and frequent avalanches prevent residents from self-sustaining. Fei and her people are at the mercy of a zipline that carries food up the treacherous cliffs from Beiguo, a mysterious faraway kingdom.

When villagers begin to lose their sight, deliveries from the zipline shrink and many go hungry. Fei’s home, the people she loves, and her entire existence is plunged into crisis, under threat of darkness and starvation.

But soon Fei is awoken in the night by a searing noise, and sound becomes her weapon.

Richelle Mead takes readers on a triumphant journey from the peak of Fei’s jagged mountain village to the valley of Beiugo, where a startling truth and an unlikely romance will change her life forever...

Book Review:

While I haven’t read any of Richelle Mead’s other books, I know a lot of readers love her Vampire Academy and Bloodlines series. I was excited to read SOUNDLESS because of the book’s premise: a fantasy with Chinese influences, featuring an entire village of deaf characters. Fei and her people have been trapped on top of a mountain for generations. Avalanches blocked them in and keep them from farmland. So to survive, they mine precious metals which are sent down the mountain by zipline. In return, the line keeper sends them food.

It’s a system that’s worked for generations, but now miners are beginning to lose their sight. Unable to send enough metal down the zipline, they are punished with restricted rations. Fei, who has a more privileged life than many as an artist’s apprentice, is terrified because her sister’s going blind. Fei joins Li Wei, her childhood friend, on an impossible quest to get down the mountain to bring awareness to her village’s plight. The quest is made possible because Fei has miraculously regained her hearing.

I really wanted to like SOUNDLESS. So many fantasy books are set in Medieval European-like countries that I’m always excited to see a book use other influences. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like the author really developed the Asian setting and culture of SOUNDLESS. There are a few hints like foods and dress styles, but if there wasn’t an Asian girl on the cover, you could’ve plopped the book into any other generic fantasy setting. There are mentions of pixius (a mythological Chinese creature) in the book, but they needed more page time and development for me to feel them, rather than swooping in at the end.

I also didn’t like that Fei needed hearing to basically save the day. Because she can hear rocks falling, she and Li Wei are able to get down the mountain safely. Because she can hear soldiers and horses, she and Li Wei are able to escape pursuit. At first Fei’s not super happy about being able to hear, because it’s confusing and annoying to her, but as it saves her behind more and more, she admits the usefulness of it. By having Fei regain her hearing, I feel like the author was erasing a big part of Fei. That said, I do think Mead did a good job of showing how someone who has been deaf would think about suddenly having hearing — there were some good passages showing Fei’s feelings and thoughts.

In the end, SOUNDLESS was just okay. It’s a standalone, which also disappoints me a bit. Everything wraps up a bit too neatly at the end. Even though I’ve mostly pointed out negatives in this review, I would have liked to see more of Fei and her village, of what happens after the big climax. SOUNDLESS was just a bit too straightforward — a standard fantasy without anything super memorable. I think there are some great ideas here, but the execution was too simplistic.

Socialize with the author:

Richelle Mead:
Website
Facebook
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: Mercury Retrograde by Laura Bickle

Book Review: Mercury Retrograde by Laura BickleMercury Retrograde by Laura Bickle
Series: Dark Alchemy #2
Published by Harper Voyager Impulse on October 27, 2015
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Source: Blog Tour, Edelweiss
Goodreads
4 Stars
Something venomous has come to Temperance …

It's been two months since Petra Dee and her coyote sidekick Sig faced off against Temperance's resident alchemist, but things are far from quiet. When an Internet video of a massive snake in the backcountry of Yellowstone goes viral, a chase for the mythical basilisk is on. Monster hunters swarm into the area, and never one to pass up the promise of discovery, Petra joins in the search.

Among the newcomers is a snake cult on wheels―the biker gang Sisters of Serpens. Unlike some, the Sisters don't want to kill the basilisk―they want to worship it. But things get complicated when the basilisk develops a taste for human flesh that rivals the Sisters' own murderous skills.

Meanwhile, the alchemical tree of life is dying, and the undead Hanged Men of Temperance who depend on it know the basilisk may be their last chance for survival.

With time running out for everyone around her, Petra will be forced to decide who survives and who she must leave behind in this action-packed sequel to Dark Alchemy.

mercury retrograde by laura bickle blog tour

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for MERCURY RETROGRADE by Laura Bickle. As I quite enjoyed the first book in the Dark Alchemy series, DARK ALCHEMY, I was excited to get the opportunity to read and review MERCURY RETROGRADE. After my review, there’s a tour-wide giveaway.

The tour is hosted by Bewitching Book Tours, and you can visit all the stops here.

Book Review:

As a fan of Laura Bickle, I was excited to see that she was continuing her Dark Alchemy series. Earlier in the year, I read DARK ALCHEMY and enjoyed it, but I wasn’t sure if it was a standalone or not. So I was quite happy to see MERCURY RETROGRADE pop up on my radar.

MERCURY RETROGRADE picks up two months after DARK ALCHEMY. Although I recommend reading the first book, I think you could read MERCURY RETROGRADE as a standalone and be okay. The author explains events that happened in the previous book as necessary. But you’ll definitely have a better appreciation of everything if you read book one.

In MERCURY RETROGRADE, Petra and her sidekick coyote Sig face off against a gigantic snake that’s turned Yellowstone into its personal hunting ground. But with giant snake videos going viral, they aren’t the only ones in the park — there are plenty of tourists, monster hunters, and even the government. Also on the search for the snake are Gabe and the Hanged Men, who need the snake’s blood to save their tree. As if that weren’t enough, there’s a cult of motorcycle-riding women who worship snakes … and they want to feed everyone to the giant snake.

I never know quite what I’m going to get with a Laura Bickle book, which is one of my favorite parts of reading her work. She twists things in ways I don’t expect, and always puts her own spin on traditional fantasy creatures. I was pretty creeped out by the giant snake, but I also sympathized with it by the end of the book. I also enjoy her dark humor and sarcasm, sprinkled at appropriate points. And lastly, she’s ace at writing great animal characters. I was overjoyed to see more of Sig!

I enjoyed MERCURY RETROGRADE even more than DARK ALCHEMY, and I can’t wait to see what else is in store for Petra, Sig, and Gabe.

Giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*giveaway is tour-wide

About the author:

laura bickleLaura Bickle grew up in rural Ohio, reading entirely too many comic books out loud to her favorite Wonder Woman doll. After graduating with an MA in Sociology – Criminology from Ohio State University and an MLIS in Library Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, she patrolled the stacks at the public library and worked with data systems in criminal justice. She now dreams up stories about the monsters under the stairs. Her work has been included in the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer Project 2013 reading list and the State Library of Ohio’s Choose to Read Ohio reading list for 2015-2016.
Website
Facebook
Twitter
Buy: Amazon | B&N | iTunes

– leeanna